Talks of temporarily halting new construction in East Baton Rouge Parish have sprouted new legs as the public's anxieties around flooding continue and their frustration with city-parish leaders over inaction grows.
Councilman Rowdy Gaudet intends to introduce what's being described as a "special moratorium," which wouldn't be as aggressive as what leaders in surrounding parishes are doing in response to rising concerns over development and its role in flooding. But Gaudet's proposed measure would place a pause on development in the city-parish for any projects that don't meet increased flood mitigation standards.
What those standards will be are still being sorted out. Currently, developments in East Baton Rouge must be designed for 25-year storm events, which the public and some Metro Councilmen feel isn't enough given the growing intensity of hurricanes and thunderstorms.
"We're hearing from citizens that there is uncertainty around drainage infrastructure (and) we have to do a better job on communicating what's being done as well as taking action," Gaudet said Thursday. "This is us pressing the pause button for a period of time until we get data from the Stormwater Master Plan."
It's not likely leaders in East Baton Rouge Parish will give in to residents' demands for a moratorium on development — at least not any time soon.
That plan, which is currently underway, will compile parishwide hydrology data and use it to guide future infrastructure upgrades and policy needs. But it is a still a ways off from completion, and some residents are starting to feel like flash flooding swamps the city-parish with every torrential rain — most recently in May.
Gaudet's proposed measure is co-sponsored by Council members Dwight Hudson, Denise Amoroso, Jen Racca and Carolyn Coleman. Discussions about it surfaced the day after the Metro Council approved a mixed-use development at the corner of Highland Road and Bluebonnet Boulevard despite a barrage of opposition from nearby residents concerned about flooding.
Gaudet was one of the two dissenting votes against the zoning change that greenlit the project's development. Most of the council felt their hands were tied because the developers already had a zoning designation that would have allowed a design with an even greater likelihood of causing flooding to the surrounding area.
"People wanted a moratorium like other parishes have done but we're trying to do something that wouldn't destroy industry," Racca said Thursday.
Several parishes, including Ascension, West Feliciana, and parts of Iberville, have imposed moratoriums pausing all major new construction.
Gaudet intends to introduce the proposed measure at Metro Council's meeting next week. Council's vote that day will be to consider holding a public hearing on the issue, which would likely happen Aug. 11.
A draft of the special moratorium is not yet available to the public. But Gaudet said the current discussion focuses on temporary halting development in areas that are federally-deemed flood zones.
Baton Rouge leaders approved another housing development that neighbors opposed because of anxieties around flooding.
According to the city-parish's Planning Commission, nearly half of the parish lies within the FEMA-designated floodplains.
Officials with the Planning Commission have said they've been adopting stricter regulations for development since the historic floods in 2016. And those changes to the city-parish's Unified Development Code have involved ensuring new developments follow regulations requiring no adverse impact on surrounding areas and take care and manage their water on-site.
"These code-based solutions play a significant part in better protecting the parish from flooding, along with infrastructure improvements and ongoing maintenance," Planning Director Ryan Holcomb said in an emailed statement. "We have discouraged development in floodplains by requiring floodplain mitigation equal to or above the level of impact."
The city-parish is waiting on data from the Stormwater Master Plan to inform any more amendments to those regulations. But Gaudet says the public and council members don't want to sit back and wait on given the immediate flooding threats the parish faces.
"The public is telling us 'we cannot wait for the data; we need you to press the pause button now,'" he said. "This is a response to that. A parishwide moratorium is not feasible for such an important industry. But this can be a moratorium with exceptions that allow for increased development standards."